From the second it was reported that Rich Peverley regained consciousness and asked to get back into the game, you knew where this was going. Peverley was going to be exploited by hockey's worst fans as an assault on LeBron James, on basketball, on any sport that isn't hockey. It was as predictable as it was sad.
You've probably already seen the image macro floating around your Twitter or Facebook feeds:
You knew it was coming because you've seen it before. Hockey fans have been banging the LeBron drum for a while, setting him up to the antithesis of everything their sport supposedly stands for. After T.J. Oshie's shootout prowess defeated Russia at the Olympics:
After the Heat and Blackhawks won their respective championships last year:
After Gregory Campbell broke his leg during the Eastern Conference finals:
(That these "factoids" run the gamut from intellectual dishonesty to outright lies can be set aside for now, but that's the mindset at play.)
It is usually LeBron, though not always. These are just punchy graphic representations of the same old inferiority complex on the parts of some hockey fans, so it's no surprise that the target would be the best player in the sport that's hockey's closest competitor for third in America's heart.
First, let's see if we can agree on this: Rich Peverley was dumb for wanting to get back into the game after his heart stopped. Not brave, not noble, certainly not tough. We do not blame him, because he was disoriented, the lack of oxygen to his brain physically crippling his decision-making abilities. If Peverley seriously believed he was going to play, he was being monumentally stupid, and the people in the room when he woke up, actual hockey coaches and medical experts, didn't entertain the thought for a millisecond.
The symptoms of Defensive Hockey Fan Syndrome are actively harmful. This culture of toughness, the concept that playing through any injury is something to be admired, is exactly the mindset that leads players to cover up and ignore their own brain injuries. The folks calling Rich Peverley tough are the same assholes who think Sidney Crosby is a pussy because it took him more than a year to be able to skate without dizziness.
The "hockey players are tough" meme is just the worst. You know who's just as tough? Pretty much every pro athlete in any sport, who just by definition had to be tough and talented and resilient and relentless to make it to the peak of their respective profession. If hockey players suffer more injuries than basketball players, it's because their sport is more physical. Are hockey players pansies because their medical records pale in comparison to those of football players? Does Alex Chiasson lack grit because he didn't feel like playing after Peverley's incident? Does Peverley being sidelined indefinitely by a freak medical condition make him a sissy compared to Hank Gathers, who had to literally die on a basketball court to stop playing?
These are ludicrous questions because this has nothing to do with toughness. It's an extension of the idea among sensitive hockey fans that their sport is filled with humble, blue-collar, team-first players (though as Ryan Lambert points out, this trope never gets applied to black skaters), while every other sport is replete with selfish glory hogs. This is a reflex on the part of fans who are well aware that hockey isn't as popular as those other sports, so they may as well try to convince themselves and others that it's somehow objectively better.
It's foolish and self-defeating. If you truly love a sport and think it's the best, you don't need to constantly prove it to yourself, you don't need ESPN's validation, and you sure as hell don't need to dishonestly tear down another sport to make the point.